Over the past few months I have had the distinct privilege and opportunity to work with a six-year-old child, who is seriously emotionally underdeveloped. He could possibly be on the autism spectrum. There may be a neurological problem, but he has not been evaluated, so this has not been confirmed.
My little friend cannot communicate, and has a hard time speaking words clearly so others can understand what he is saying. He screams and says “No!” a lot. Of course, I thought I knew everything about child development, and believed I could change him with my “knowledge” and understanding of how children develop socially and emotionally.
I prayed about the situation, because I was at a loss of what to do since my child development principles did not work with him. The answer I received in my heart was …”Just love him,” and that is what I started to do.
I have been challenged beyond my capacity to love. In the beginning he ran away from me, hit me, shouted at me saying, “Get away from me!” If he didn’t like something or didn’t want to work on task, he would sit down on the floor and scream as loud as he could until exhausted, or adults submitted, which gave him what he wanted.
I started loving him, whispering and talking to him in a very soft tone. I began seeing him with a heart of love, gently touching him, and affirming him when he did something … anything positive. I started playing “Boo” with him. I walked ahead of him and he ran up to me and scared the dickens out of me, even though I knew what he would do. I started laughing with him, singing with him, and holding him as close as possible, hugging him when he would allow me. I looked for any slight open door to smile, laugh, play, have fun, listen intensely, or affirm him.
I always say in my work, “You can change a child’s behavior by changing a child’s heart.” This is a belief statement. Now I had a real case study before my eyes. It is a fact that children cannot learn unless they are emotionally healthy. The schools try to teach children when they are not on their feet emotionally, but this has little impact on their learning. Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s book,The Growth of the Mind, tells us, “Intellect, academic abilities, sense of self, consciousness and morality have origins in our earliest and ongoing emotional experiences.”
After four months, my little friend started to change. His smile became magnetic, and when his new teeth began to show, he was endearing. In my redirection of negative to positive behavior, he is learning to use nice, not naughty, words. He is starting to make friends. He is beginning to feel safe, because he has someone who cares about him, through the ups and downs. He is starting to connect. Sometimes he goes back to his defiant self. Often it is because he has not had breakfast, or dinner the night before. After he eats, his mood changes dramatically. I continue to love him.
He is fiercely independent. He will need this quality to survive and thrive without a close attachment to his family. He is artistic, and his creations are totally unique. He excels in physical education, and this strength will help him learn. He has great potential, but needs strong guidance and affirmations. I always quote John W. Gardner in my work, “Potential in children is undiscovered and untapped.” When a child knows he can do something well, it helps him to feel confident and flourish. My little friend has great potential; it just hasn’t been discovered.
In the book, I Still Love You by Michael Unger, he describes nine things all children need and why:
Lots and lots of relationships
A powerful identity
A sense of control
A sense of belonging, spirituality, and life purpose
Rights and responsibilities
Safety and support
Never underestimate the impact you can have on a child’s life when you love unconditionally. Love can do wonders. I know this for a fact. Not only is my little friend changing, he has changed my capacity to love. For this, I am forever grateful.
Love so amazing.